The Real World in Middle-earth

The Real World in Middle-earth

In my last post, I explained the weirdest feature of The First Age app, how real-world locations can be overlaid onto Middle-earth. In this post, I’m going to flip it around by explaining how the Middle-earth map was created from real-world images.

The various zoom levels and annotations in the app all come back to one single very high-resolution image which was created in Adobe Photoshop. How high? Well, lets put it this way, if you printed it at a typical 300 dpi resolution, it would be 9 feet by 6 feet.

To get an image that big you have to have high-resolution source material, and in my case that came from the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Their Landsat 8 program has photographed the Earth in exquisite detail and the results are available for free download from their Earth Explorer website.

Of course, having access to high resolution is great, but its the images you select and how you use them that determines how useful they are for a project like this. Typically I would start with a part of the Middle-earth map I wanted to create and then have in mind the sort of geographic features I wanted. I would then scan the map of the world in Earth Explorer to try and find something that could be manipulated to the feature I wanted in Photoshop.

Here’s a really easy example, Orodruin, the Mountain of Fire in Mordor. For this, I wanted a volcano that really looked like a volcano from the air, and wasn’t snow-covered. It also needed to be standing alone and not part of an obvious range. I considered a number of volcanoes all over the world before finally settling on Mount Agung on the island of Bali in Indonesia. A quick search on Earth Explorer returned a number of possible images, one of which I processed and integrated into my map of Mordor.

Although Orodruin comes from Mount Agung, most of the rest of Mordor comes from China and the Dead Marshes and Emyn Muil both come from Madagascar. Curiously. given that the movies were all filmed there, New Zealand doesn’t appear at all on the map. It might have been the perfect location for the movies, but it wasn’t as well-suited for the aerial shots I was looking for.

Some other mountainous highlights from the map; The Iron Mountains are the Kunlun Shan range, The Misty Mountains are a mix of the Alps and Caucasus ranges, a heavily edited Mount Ranier doubles for The Lonely Mountain, The Urals in Russia make up the mountains of Hithlum and the Iron Hills come from Siberia.

I had a lot of fun putting it all together 🙂





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